Recolouring the past
Jesus was not white, that is for sure. But then nor was he a Christian, says Eddie Ford. He was an apocalyptic revolutionary who hated the Roman empire and its collaborators
In light of the Black Lives Matter protests, the iconography of Jesus is being challenged. When questioned about the issue by the BBC’s Today programme, Justin Welby, the Church of England’s top bishop, said a “rethink” was necessary about how the supposed man-god is still portrayed as a north-west European white, sometimes blonde and even blue-eyed.
Actually, if you go to one of the trendier CoE churches, you might find a black or brown Jesus. In Africa, of course, you will come across plenty. Ethiopia has depicted Jesus as black for more than 1,500 years. Worldwide, Jesus is represented as Indian, Chinese, Native American, Fijian, Filipino, etc - not to mention Middle Eastern, which, as Welby pointed out, is the “most accurate” for obvious reasons. The archbishop went on to announce a review of statues and commemorative names in Anglican churches and buildings, saying - or warning - that “some will have to come down” and “some names will have to change”. Welby even implicitly compared some of the leading figures in church history to the downfall of the Soviet Union, reminding us of “the statues coming down of Dzerzhinsky” - founder of the Cheka - as “it’s what people do at times like this, and it’s a good thing”. Naturally, he did not believe like Pol Pot in “throwing out everything we’ve got in the past”. Rather, people should forgive the “trespasses” of those people memorialised in churches up and down the country - “but only if there’s justice”.
Going much further is Shaun King, co-founder of the Real Justice Political Action Committee and once a leading voice for BLM in the USA - he fell somewhat from grace, it seems, after a slightly bizarre dispute about him being a Caucasian falsely portraying himself as black. Anyhow, he tweeted that all images (including murals and stained-glass windows) depicting Jesus as a “white European” should be torn down, because they are a form of “white supremacy” created by white people to use Christianity as a “tool of oppression”.
Conservative opinion was offended by his remarks. Nick Timothy, for example, former Downing Street chief of staff to Theresa May and a general weirdo, writing in the perfect platform of The Daily Telegraph, painted a picture of an archbishop “rewriting the principles that hold our societies together” - prophesying that “any civilisation that ceases to believe in itself is doomed to self-destruction” (June 28). The barbarians are at the gate. Indeed, poor old Welby “personifies the madness of our times, and the moral cowardice of our leaders”. What he should have said in reply to Shaun King and other BLM activists, according to Timothy, was that “the significance of Jesus is spiritual, not political or racial” - as “Jesus was god made flesh, and that we are all made in god’s own image”. Okay, that makes everything clear.
More directly, the alt-right Breitbart News said - albeit slightly tongue in cheek - that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rethink of white Jesus is “a sign that we are approaching End Times”.1 Just “as you would expect” of a Church of England priest, we read, “it was a masterly exercise in flannel, equivocation and fence-sitting” - something that is hard to disagree with. Like the “far-left” Shaun King, Breitbart concludes, Justin Welby “tacitly supports” BLM, as does “pretty much the entire” church - “which, of course, is part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in”. White lives matter more.
Communists obviously agree with Justin Welby’s suggestion that it is very unlikely that Jesus was either blonde or pale-skinned, let alone blue-eyed.
In fact, a team of Israeli and British forensic anthropologists and computer programmers created a new image of Jesus in 2001 based on an ‘Israeli’ skull dating to the same time as Jesus, and their broader knowledge of what Jewish people of the day in Judea and Egypt might have looked like.2 This reconstructed Jesus, unlike those in your average CoE or Catholic church in Britain, was around five feet tall - the average man’s height at the time - with olive-brown skin, brown eyes and short, curly, dark-brown-to-black hair. Breitbart News’s worst nightmares come true.
Hopefully this will not upset too many Weekly Worker readers, but one thing you can say with absolute certainty is that Jesus of Galilee was not a Christian. The very idea is risible and totally ahistorical. You can reasonably bet money that he was a militant, intolerant or ‘fundamentalist’ Jew who hated the Romans and Greeks alike - with a dim view too of backsliding Jews not strictly observing the correct rituals and ceremonies: the enemy within. Theological and ideological purity was everything for Jesus and his followers. He was an apocalyptic communist revolutionary who thought he could bring about the kingdom of god right here on earth - no need to wait for the afterlife. This revolution would be thoroughly anti-Roman and anti-aristocratic: the poor would inherit the earth. Nor was this god-backed revolution confined to Palestine - you were not going to have apocalyptic communism in one province. The revolution would encompass the entire world, the Jesus party acting as the vanguard of liberation.
It should also be noted that comrade Jesus was not a Jeremy Corbyn-type who turned the other cheek and loved his enemies - a preposterous notion introduced in the New Testament, which even has Jesus saying, “Resist not evil” and “Render unto Caesar ...” You could hardly make it up - except they did. In one of the more awkward passages of the New Testament we get a brief glimpse of the real Jesus, when he tells his followers: “I came not to send peace, but a sword!” Five of his 12 inner circle of disciples probably came from the ranks of the revolutionary ‘bandits’ (or ‘terrorists’), keeping their guerrilla nicknames, including Peter Barjonah, the ‘outlaw’, James and John, the ‘sons of thunder’; and Judas Iscariot, the ‘dagger man’. All oppressors and exploiters would be annihilated by the Jesus party and a vengeful god.
Another thing that has to be pointed out to Justin Welby is that Christianity is institutionally anti-Semitic. What we have in the four main gospels of the New Testament, is an ever deeper and fouler anti-Semitic narrative being steadily introduced, to the point where it is thoroughly embedded in the doctrine we now know as Christianity. Fantastically, we have Jesus, a Jew, talking about how the Jews are persecuting him. Worse, his stupid Jewish disciples do not understand him and he is constantly vilified by Pharisees and the general Jewish population.
This anti-Semitic and malicious rewriting of history is at its most revolting in the death story of Jesus recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, which makes the Jews - not the Romans - responsible for his death. First, we get an invented Passover tradition in Jerusalem, whereby the governor of Judea - Pontius Pilate in this case - can commute a prisoner’s death sentence by popular demand, setting up the horrible story that the writer wants to tell. Next Pilate turns to the Jews gathered for Passover, we are led to believe, and asks who should be released - Barabbas, the thief, or the divinely perfect Jesus? There can only be one answer, of course, the baying Jewish mob cry out for Barabbas, with Pilate washing his hands of the whole sorry affair. In the words of Matthew, all the people answered - “His blood be on us and on our children!” In other words, Christianity explicitly blames the death of god on the Jews - now a cursed people, who deserve whatever fate they get. If that is not anti-Semitic, then it is hard to know what is. By a certain cruel irony, many of those who believe this as a matter of faith today are among the strongest supporters of Israel, especially in the US.
What exactly propelled the authors of the New Testament to become virulently anti-Semitic? A sudden bout of madness and bigotry? The explanation is relatively simple. The followers of Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, were trying to distance themselves from the Jewish uprisings in Palestine that began in 66 CE and were mainly associated with the Zealots - essentially the armed wing of the Jewish liberation movement. But also linked to these tumultuous events were those who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls - often attributed to the Essenes - and those who followed Jesus and his brother, James, the first head of the Jesus party after the founder’s execution. Paul, a Hellenised Jew, joined the party and succeeded in winning large numbers of recruits outside Palestine amongst the gentiles.
Quite brilliantly in some ways, Paul and his successors founded a new religion, a religion that was more than eager to disassociate itself from the Jewish revolution of 66-70 CE. Jesus the man and his beliefs are turned into their opposite. He has no earthly father. His family is largely removed from the narrative. He shows contempt for Jewish laws and taboos. He preaches non-resistance. The poor Jewish masses who longed for class vengeance and an anti-Roman revolution are made into his enemies, and, in the final analysis, his executioners. A Roman centurion is the first to recognise Jesus as the man-god. Eventually this new religion - Christianity - is incorporated by the Roman empire. Those persecuted by Nero became persecutors with Constantine. Pagans and all manner of dissident Christians were tortured and put to death on a huge scale.
Obviously, communists are not calling for Christianity or the Bible to be banned - nor for the New Testament to be removed from bookshelves or re-edited to make it more palatable for modern anti-racist tastes. Nor do we want to remove statues and images of a pale-skinned Jesus. We are just saying that the New Testament is anti-Semitic and therefore Christianity is institutionally anti-Semitic.